Children’s Festival a favorite for generations

Nearly three decades ago, people were introduced to kid-friendly acts from around the world at the very first Philadelphia International Children’s Festival—all at a reasonable price for parents.

This spring, some of those people who were treated to puppetry, dance, or musical theater when they were young can share that experience with children of their own at this year’s Children’s Festival, which is celebrating its 30th birthday. The Festival will be held from April 30 through May 4 at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

“We’re going to start to see kids who went to this [when they were] 8-year-olds,” says Dawn Frisby Byers, director of marketing and communications for the Annenberg Center. “You could very likely have kids you could be bringing back to us.”

The Festival features an array of acts that range from comedic theater to a visually arresting light and sculpture show. It is also an expanded Festival this year, with an Opening Night Special on Wednesday, April 30. The pre-show party begins at 5:30 p.m. and a performance of one of this year’s acts, “Me and My Shadow,” starts at 6:30 p.m. There will also be light fare; tickets are $5.

“Me and My Shadow,” which is presented by the Patch Theatre Company from Adelaide, Australia, is a visual poem, as the company uses paper, light, shadow, color, water, music, sound, and words to tell the fanciful story of a girl who becomes friends with her shadow.

Also on the roster this year is “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Tortoise & the Hare” by the New Orleans-based company, Lightwire Theater/Corbian Visual Arts and Dance. Lightwire Theater may already be familiar to parents and children, as the company was seen on the TV show “America’s Got Talent” in 2012. This talented troupe mixes technology, sculpture, dance, and theater in what they call “electroluminescent puppetry” to present two classic stories by Hans Christian Andersen.

The London-based group, Tall Stories, will feature “The Snail and the Whale,” a storytelling and live music performance about a tiny snail who wants to see the world, and catches a ride on a humpback whale.

Gale LaJoye, from Marquette, Mich., returns with his one-man silent comedy show, “Snowflake,” about a street character who recycles found objects into comic treasures.

The Cashore Marionettes from Colmar, Pa., present “Simple Gifts,” a modern puppetry performance with poignant scenes from everyday life set to classical music.

Finally, spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain will explore the marriage of hip-hop and classical music in “We Shall Not Be Moved: the Hip H’opera Project.” This performance—one time only on Friday, May 2—is part of a three-year project between Opera Philadelphia and Art Sanctuary, as well as Philadelphia students from four high schools. The Festival performance will demonstrate how far the project has progressed in the second year of the collaboration.

The Festival is again featuring the FUN ZONE, free for all ticket holders, which will have interactive performances and activities in the  plaza in front of the Annenberg Center.

Tickets run $10 per person for Wednesday-Friday performances and $12 for shows on Saturday and Sunday of the Festival. Tickets are half-price for Penn staff and faculty, as well as for West Philadelphia residents. The $30 Children’s Festival Fun Pass is good for three shows, access to the FUN ZONE, and a lunch on either Saturday, May 3, or Sunday, May 4.

Byers says about 10,000 people visited the Festival last year. Attendees this year will include schoolchildren, some of whom will be able to take in a performance due to grants provided by the Philadelphia Phillies, the Lomax Family Foundation, and the Connelly Foundation.

The low ticket prices enable schools to expose students to live theater from a world-renowned troupe.

“It’s one of those beautiful things in Philadelphia that doesn’t happen in other places,” Byers says. “This is very special. This is quality, professional theater.”

For a complete list of performers, including showtimes and locations, visit the Annenberg Center website.

Children's Festival